Please The Palate Pick of the Week: Rajat Parr, Phelan Farm, Scythian Wine Co, and Regenerative Farming

In a week in which the planet saw its hottest day on record, and knowing that that record will be broken again and again, we must pay attention. We must act. We must do what we can, even if it seems small within the bigger picture. And we can start with what we eat and what we drink. Because it all matters! That is why Rajat Parr, Phelan Farm, Scythian Wine Co, and Regenerative Farming are the Please The Palate pick of the week.

I attended a lunch with members of the LA wine trade this week and our guest speaker was Rajat Parr. Rajat Parr is a known name in the wine world. The award-winning sommelier turned winemaker is known for his wine labels Sandhi and Domaine de la Côte in Santa Barbara County and Evening Land Vineyards in Willamette Valley. He is also a successful author and three-time James Beard Award winner. But where he is most at home these days is farming his 11-acre vineyard Phelan Farm in Cambria.

Phelan Farm is located in the SLO Coast AVA, a 15-minute drive from the town of Cambria and only a few miles from the Pacific Ocean. Phelan Farm is a 1,100-acre ranch dating back to the 1850s. Family descendent Greg Phelan planted 11 acres of own-rooted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in 2007. And in 2017, Parr found this vineyard and leased the property. He kept some of the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but has grafted many new French varieties including Mondeuse, Savagnin Vert, Savganin Jaune, Poulsard, Altesse, Trousseau, and Gamay Noir.

It is here at Phelan Farm that Parr farms the way he wants. And that is the “right way” and the “slow way”. He is doing regenerative farming, staying as close to nature as possible. The foundation of regenerative farming is organic farming, which he started in 2018. And today, there is no tilling or plowing and neither sulfur or copper is used. Parr does everything by hand and mostly by himself (he works with two other people). He has learned along the way. He learned to raise chickens and sheep, as well as guard dogs. He went from 20 chickens to 60 chickens and build a coop and electric fencing. All of the sprays he uses are made from native plants. With a diverse microbial life, the vineyard is healthy and strong.

And the Phelan Farm wines are made with little intervention. As Parr spoke to us about his farming practices, we sipped the delicious 2022 Chardonnay Rosé made from a 1/2 acre of a Chardonnay mutation that has pink skins.

We also enjoyed The Scythians White 2022 from Cucamonga. Scythian Wine Co. is a project Parr started to produce wines from heritage vineyards in Southern California. Introduced to Cucamonga by winemaker Abe Schoener, another proponent of regenerative farming. Located outside of Los Angeles, Cucamonga is home to vineyards that were planted between 1896 and 1920. These vines have been farmed organically with no irrigation since the beginning and these old vines do not produce a lot of fruit. The Scythians White 2022 is made from a 15-acre vineyard of Palomino which was planted in 1912.

Parr explained how Cambria and Cucamonga are two parallels. Phelan Farm is farmed by humans whereas Cucamonga is farmed by nature. It is through this parallel that Parr tries to understand nature.

It was a treat to listen to Parr speak about his passion for regenerative farming. We need to care because our future depends on it and Parr intends to make noise to let people know how important it is.

So, what can we do? We can think before we buy. Focus on small producers who focus on regenerative farming and care about the future of our soil and in turn the future of our lives.


What is regenerative farming? Read this story I wrote for the Napa Valley Register: A regenerative farming case study: Robert Hall Winery looks ahead to the next 20 years